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Shirin Ebadi Greeting Audience at Columbia Law School

Credit: Courtesy of Columbia Law School, Photo by Bruce Gilbert.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– On the sideline of an April 2 conference hosted by Columbia , Shirin Ebadi, who in 2003 became the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, briefly discussed the consequences of the Arab uprisings on women with Women’s eNews. The Iranian lawyer’s answers were translated from Persian by her translator Shirin Ershadi.

Q: The Arab uprisings brought hope when they started in Tunisia. We now see that women’s rights are endangered. Have these uprisings been a good thing for Arab/Muslim women?

A: It has been good, but not enough. The voice of Arab women has been heard and that’s why I am saying it has been good; but unfortunately some countries want to retract the rights that women gained in the past. I am very glad that women are resisting. Women will only attain their rights when they learn how to resist dictators and oppressors.

Q: What is the main obstacle for women’s rights in these societies?

A: I think it’s the patriarchal culture. The patriarchal culture uses everything to legitimize itself. In Islamic countries, they interpret Islam in such a way that it is against women, whereas Islam has a different interpretation. With a correct interpretation of Islam, we can respect women’s rights.

Q: The Arab uprisings seem to have energized women to fight for their rights. Can we say that we are witnessing a rebirth of the Islamic feminism?

A: I have issues with “Islamic feminism. ” Feminism means equality of rights between men and women. Then, it is not Islamic. However, a Muslim woman can be a feminist.

Q: Speaking of feminism, we have lately witnessed extreme manifestations of feminism in Muslim-dominated countries, such as the ones inspired by the Ukrainian group Femen. Last month, a young Tunisian woman posted topless pictures of herself online with the words “my body is mine, nobody’s honor” written across her breasts and stomach. What is your take on this type of expression?

A: Here, the issue is the issue of freedom. People have to be free to do what they want to do. Of course, freedom is not unlimited and the limit of everyone’s freedom is the freedom of others. Therefore, if one’s freedom doesn’t hurt the other person we cannot limit it.

Q: In 2009, after the contested reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians took to the street but their attempt to defy the regime resulted in a huge crackdown. Can the Arab uprisings be an inspiration for the Iranians who want change?

A: What I can tell you is every day the number of those who oppose the government increases. Iran is like a volcano, any minute the lava may come out. So wait and see what happens.

Opposition to Sanctions

During the Columbia University law conference, Ebadi reiterated her opposition to economic sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.

The lawyer, who in 1970 became Iran’s first female judge, lives in exile in London and fiercely opposes the current Iranian regime. But she said economic sanctions “affect Iranian people and increase the corruption within the government.” Instead she recommended “political sanctions” that would “specifically target” members of the regime and “third countries where Iranian officials enter and have assets.”

She suggested, for example, to “target international satellites that broadcast Iranian propaganda in non-Persian languages. ” She said that today in Iran “16 TV stations hold propaganda of Iran in non-Persian. ” She also recommended sanctioning companies that provide the Iranian government with technology used for repression.

Shirin Ebadi is well-known for her defense of human rights, particularly those of women and children. At an April 2 awards dinner, she received the Wolfgang Friedmann Memorial Award from the . Since 1975, the prize has honored outstanding contributions to the field of international law. Ebadi was also honored as a Women’s eNews 21 leaders for the 21st Century in 2004.

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